“You’re useless!” Veronica screeched. “Know that? Abso-bloody-lutely useless!”
Ten-year old Richard, crouched at her feet, stared up at his mother. Her wide-open mouth displayed big horse-like teeth, and spittle flew as she yelled at him. He gripped the hammer tightly and gave the nail protruding slightly from the floorboards another whack.
“Abso-bloody-lutely useless!” she repeated, grabbing the hammer from him.
He cowered as she raised it above her head. It smashed down on the nail, driving it deep and leaving a dent in the floorboard. He felt the floor reverberate with the force of the blow. His mother’s hair, tied in a bun on the top of her head, bounced, and tendrils fell round her angry flushed face.
“That’ll stop the damn’ floor creaking,” she said, glowering at him. “Try harder next time!”
“And stop snivelling!”
He didn’t answer. He knew that anything he said when she was in one of her moods, would enrage her. Even something as simple as ‘good morning.’ And today’s start was far from good.
“What are you doing?” she asked sharply, as he rose from his crouch.
“B-breakfast,” he whispered. “Getting breakfast.”
“Did I say you could have breakfast? And speak up!”
“Yes, mother. I mean, no…”
“Just like your useless father. Weak, forever changing his mind. You know quite well that now he’s gone you have to do his jobs. So, today, go and weed the veg patch. When you’ve done, then you can have breakfast. Can’t have them killing off the seedlings. Off you go! Chop, chop!”
Richard obediently scurried outside into the chill morning air. His father had at least made his mind up to go, but he wished he’d taken him with him. Three months it had been now… It seemed more like three hundred years ago when he’d come downstairs in the morning to find Dad wasn’t there.
“Where’s Dad?” he’d asked, eager to go on their long-planned fishing trip.
“Gone,” his mother had said, not even looking up from scrubbing the kitchen floor. The brush scritch-scratched on the black and white tiles, spreading sudsy water. “Good riddance!”
“But we were going fishing today. He promised!”
“Tough!” she snapped, concentrating on scrubbing between the tiles. “Take that bag of rubbish to the bin. You should know your no-good father by now. Unreliable.”
Richard had known better than to argue, not when she was in a mood, and did as he was told. Just like he had today, shivering without his fleece jacket. The one Dad had bought him, supporting his favourite football team. He bent and began tugging the weeds from the heavy damp soil. Be quicker if he used a hoe. He was wrenching at the shed door when his mother’s voice bellowed from the house.
“Richard? What the hell are you doing? You’re supposed to be weeding.”
“Getting the hoe, but the door’s stuck.”
“It’s locked, stupid! Been a few thefts from sheds, lately. Anyway, you don’t need a hoe for half a dozen weeds. Just get on with it!”
He trudged back to the muddy plot and tugged at the weeds with cold fingers. The quicker he finished the sooner he’d get breakfast. His stomach rumbled. Only last week, he’d taken too long to rake the gravel on the drive and his mother had declared it was too late for breakfast, he’d have to wait for dinner. He wished Dad would come back home…but until he did, it would be a good idea to get in his mother’s good books. Please her… How about spreading fertiliser between the rows of vegetables?. Help them grow big. He shifted this idea back and forth in his mind, Seemed good to him, so when he’d yanked the last weed free he tossed them on top of the compost heap.
He grabbed the spade leaning against the heap and tackled the pile as he’d seen Dad do.
He needed the rotted stuff from underneath. He jabbed the spade in about a foot from the bottom just as Dad did and heaved down on the handle. This was harder to do than he’d expected. He’d made a break in the pile and decided to make a little tunnel and scrape the stuff out. It would be easier than digging. He wanted to get this done before his mother caught him and spoilt his surprise…
It wasn’t long before he hit a snag. The spade had hit something solid which refused to be scraped out . He changed tactics and demolished the little tunnel, and dragged the compost clear. A trainer. How had a trainer got mixed with the compost? His mother would go mental! One eye on the house door, he feverishly increased his speed.
Definitely a trainer. He bent to take a firm grip and pull it free. It must be caught on something, he thought, having another go with the spade. He exposed more of the trainer…a stretch of sock and blue jeans. He got quite a jolt when he recognised the sock. He’d bought them last year. A Father’s Day gift, To The Worlds Best Dad.
What did he do now? Tell his mother he’d found Dad?
Then he remembered the night Dad had disappeared. The way he’d put his head under the covers to block out the loud voices downstairs. His mother’s high screechy voice and his father’s low rumble. Then silence. The way she’d been scrubbing the floor the next morning—
He slowly got to his feet, clutching the spade, and tiptoed the few yards to the door. The radio was on. He carefully opened the door, eased through. His mother was sitting at the kitchen table. Her back was to him. She was leafing through a magazine while she sipped her tea.
He raised the spade high. “This is for Dad!” he yelled.
She turned, just as he smashed the spade down with all his strength.
“For Dad,” he repeated, using her bun of hair as a target. “For Dad! For Dad!”
She slumped across the table. The magazine slowly turned red.
Richard backed up to the fridge, staring at his mother. The spade clattered on the floor. His legs refused to hold him up and he slid to the floor.
“You killed dad,” he whispered. “Now you now what being dead feels like!”
Photo by courtesy of See Vee rgbstock.com